The PJ Tatler

Why Are Conservatives Happier than Liberals?

Insert your snarky, cynical reason here…

Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute has penned a fascinating op-ed at the New York Times that explains why conservatives describe themselves as so much happier than liberals:


Many conservatives favor an explanation focusing on lifestyle differences, such as marriage and faith. They note that most conservatives are married; most liberals are not. (The percentages are 53 percent to 33 percent, according to my calculations using data from the 2004 General Social Survey, and almost none of the gap is due to the fact that liberals tend to be younger than conservatives.) Marriage and happiness go together. If two people are demographically the same but one is married and the other is not, the married person will be 18 percentage points more likely to say he or she is very happy than the unmarried person.

The story on religion is much the same. According to the Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey, conservatives who practice a faith outnumber religious liberals in America nearly four to one. And the link to happiness? You guessed it. Religious participants are nearly twice as likely to say they are very happy about their lives as are secularists (43 percent to 23 percent). The differences don’t depend on education, race, sex or age; the happiness difference exists even when you account for income.

Obviously, Mr. Brooks never met my ex-wife. Still, it is generally true that married people are more apt to describe themselves as “happy,” which is something that has been known for decades.

The key is religion. Having faith in God gives one’s life purpose and meaning. I’ve heard believers say many times that “doing God’s will” makes them feel good. That’s got to play into a happiness quotient.


What about liberals?

An explanation for the happiness gap more congenial to liberals is that conservatives are simply inattentive to the misery of others. If they recognized the injustice in the world, they wouldn’t be so cheerful. In the words of Jaime Napier and John Jost, New York University psychologists, in the journal Psychological Science, “Liberals may be less happy than conservatives because they are less ideologically prepared to rationalize (or explain away) the degree of inequality in society.” The academic parlance for this is “system justification.”

Yes, there’s something to be said about standing atop the battlements, waving the bloody shirt and calling attention to the “violence inherent in the system.” It’s got to be tough to be happy when your concern and compassion encompass the entire world — including the most helpless among us like Snail Darters and Western Pine Beetles.

But conservatives have a different outlook:

The data show that conservatives do indeed see the free enterprise system in a sunnier light than liberals do, believing in each American’s ability to get ahead on the basis of achievement. Liberals are more likely to see people as victims of circumstance and oppression, and doubt whether individuals can climb without governmental help. My own analysis using 2005 survey data from Syracuse University shows that about 90 percent of conservatives agree that “While people may begin with different opportunities, hard work and perseverance can usually overcome those disadvantages.” Liberals — even upper-income liberals — are a third less likely to say this.


I think there’s a far simpler explanation for why conservatives are happier than liberals: we don’t constantly worry if we’re doing or saying the politically correct thing. Walking through life on eggshells, fretting about offending a protected group or class, while constantly making sure you don’t do or say anything that a fellow liberal could criticize you for, would drive me bonkers. Possessing such a worldview eventually causes one’s head to come to a point — if it doesn’t explode first. So, of course liberals are miserable.

They also don’t drink enough. Stop smoking the wacky weed and start drinking single malt scotch. And if you have to puff on something, smoke Cuban cigars. I guarantee your outlook on life will improve tremendously.

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